this week is “healing the divides” week here on the blog, and i’ve loved the feedback and responses to the first two posts:
today i thought i’d mix it up a little and share a little video blog instead of writing. i’d love to do more video conversations like i did a few years ago, but alas, this one is just me rambling a few thoughts on walls & divides & Jesus.
i’d love to hear any thoughts it might stir up.
my challenge to myself & to us is:
who are “those people” in our lives?
what walls have we put up to separate ourselves from them?
what would breaking down some of the walls maybe look like?
tomorrow: deeper dignified dialogue
this week is “healing the divides” week here at the blog, a few different posts centered on creating ways to love each other better despite our differences. we started yesterday with 8 ways those from more liberal-progressive and conservative-evangelical persuasions can love each other better. today, i want to talk about becoming safer people who can hold the space for safer conversations.
a really big thing that gets in the way of healthier-ways-of-living-in-the-tension-of-our-differences is unsafety.
it’s impossible to have unity and love when there’s all kinds of unsafe, unhealthy behavior going on.
to me, another word for “safety” is “healthy”.
safer, healthier people make safer, healthier conversations.
they bridge divides.
my take is that this skill of becoming safer people is under-developed ones in many churches. we are often good at bible knowledge & ministry programs & all kinds of other amazing tasks, but some of these basic healthy relationship skills are the lowest priority. maybe because they are much harder to practice! in fact, a lot of our experiences have made church one of the most unsafe, unhealthy places on earth and that is part of the reason many people have given up on it all together. i understand. my experience has been that many systems–faith-based or not–stink at healthy relationship in community with one another.
learning how to be safer people won’t come in a rush, but it is so possible, especially when we are honest with ourselves about our own patterns. it’s always easy to finger point and call someone else “unsafe” but the truth is that there is always a way each and every one of us can become more safe ourselves.
part of bridging these divides is looking at the log in our own eye and working on ways to become safer people ourselves first.
as we do, our conversations will shift, we will become more graceful people, we will be able to hold a space with people who see things differently, we will learn some great stuff we need to learn, and in the end we will better reflect God’s image.
i wrote about these in down we go: living into the wild ways of Jesus in the chapter on welcoming pain and in different ways here the blog, but i thought it would be good to re-visit them this week as part of this series. many years ago i read safe people by cloud & townsend (really worth reading related to healthy relationships) and many of these ideas have evolved from there with time & experience. it’s been helpful to me to translate beyond individuals to communities as well.
i always need these reminders, especially when engaging in difficult conversations about hard things.
unsafe people (and communities):
- tend to be extremely judgmental and defensive.
- are quick to offer advice to others but remain unwilling to receive input or feedback.
- think we have all the answers and reflect certainty that their opinion or perspective is somehow superior.
- blame others for our mistakes but refuse to take responsibility for any of our own.
- often demand trust as implicit in the relationship without having to offer any work on our end to earn it.
- remain closed to change and are extremely rigid in our beliefs.
- offer unsolicited advice, quick fixes, and do not take no for an answer.
- use our power to make others unequal with them.
- avoid conflict all together or create disproportionate conflict to somehow gain control in our relationships.
- project that somehow we “have it all together” and rarely express our own struggles or weaknesses.
yikes! this is always such a convicting list! overall, i’d say that unsafe people & communities divide people. and they certainly can’t hold a space for the kinds of healthy, loving, honest, respectful conservations we need to have if we want to try to heal some of these deep divides between us.
but there is a better, healthier way to hold this space together.
safe people (and communities):
- are good listeners, willing to sit with painful stories instead of fixing or giving unsolicited advice.
- offer love and acceptance freely, without strings attached.
- see beyond the surface to the good that’s within us.
- help us feel comfortable being ourselves and challenge us to grow, stretch and practice.
- value relationship over opinions or differences, and nurture a spirit of equality with those different from us.
- receive help, input, and feedback instead of only giving it, and engage in healthy conflict instead of avoiding it.
- are honest and kind, brave enough to say the hard things in love, while staying honest about our own shortcomings.
- remain humbly connected to our stories and pain and are willing to share our weaknesses and struggles with others who are safe enough.
safety should never be confused with comfort. they are two different things entirely, and that is such a misrepresentation of the word. safety is sometimes horribly uncomfortable. far harder. far trickier. far more mysterious and intangible.
but oh, becoming safer people would help create safer conversations and help heal divides that desperately need healing.
God show us how to be safer people. we want to learn.
* it’s going to be a busy 2 weeks on the blog and then i’m going to take all of july & august off so i can enjoy my kids home from summer, work on faith shift, and focus on refuge stuff that really needs some attention. i am going to miss you and it will be freaky to not think in blog for that long but after 2 weeks with lots of posts, you’ll probably be sick of me and ready for a break, too! i’ve got two different series of posts for this week and next week. this week is “healing the divides” week, centered on ways to heal divisions between us from all kinds of angles & next week is “grief week”, centered on some experiential exercises to grieve church & faith losses, and other kinds, too (yeah, just a little light summer reading!). there are all kinds of divides between people, but one of the deepest and most apparent in blog-land, wider-church-conversations, and real life is the deepening chasm between those from a more liberal-progressive persuasion and those with more conservative-evangelical views. here’s a start at healing some of what separates us; i thought it would be a good one to kick off this week.
while i’m a firm believer in inter-faith dialogue, i think a far-overlooked topic is how hard intra-faith dialogue really is–especially the tricky conversations between those of a more liberal-progressive persuasion and those more firmly committed to conservative-evangelical roots. i can’t stand labels, and i am at risk here by naming these two groups, but let’s face it–we are having a hard time living in the tension of our differences!
and we make up a big part of this crazy beautiful thing called The Church.
some of you are so over it, thinking why even bother, there’s no chance we’ll ever be able to figure this one out so we might as well spend our energy elsewhere. i feel it, too, and all this talk about theology when the world is crying out for hope makes me a little crazy. i think sometimes it’s a great distraction and i have some pretty serious doubts that Jesus would be excited about the time, energy, resource and heart that is often spent this direction. i kinda think he’d say “get off facebook, stop reading blogs, and go offer some cups of cold water for Christ’s–i mean my—sake!”
at the same time, i can’t bury my head in the sand and hope for the day i wake up and we’re all getting along.
we are stuck with each other in this mess.
and there’s only one way out–Love.
love hurts. love is hard. but it’s what we are called to.
the world is watching. those hanging on to their faith by a thread are watching. the future generations are watching.
and so far what we’re offering them are deep divides, angry answers on the internet, homogenous churches and ministries, fear, and disdain. we’re either fighting or fleeing.
i believe there’s a third way-a more mature way, a harder way, a better way.
but it will require so much freaking humility and work and God’s crazy-supernatural-help to get there. on our own, we’re toast, but maybe God could help us learn and practice some better rules of engagement for both strains, ways to hold this space more safely, to live in the tension of our differences, to break down walls instead of build them.
here are some thoughts off the top of my head, ideas for those with a more liberal-progressive and conservative-evangelical persuasions to better love each other.
1. remember first, that other person is a child of God, made in God’s image. dignified dialogue always starts with this. it doesn’t hurt to also remember, they’are also probably fighting some kind of battle (because we all are). we need to lay down our stereotypes of each other that cause us to often close our hearts and our minds to each other from the get-go.
2. respect each other’s biblical conclusions. the Bible is a unique and amazing book, but the most damage gets done over claiming our individual biblical interpretation is “God’s truth.” none of us can see with God’s perfect x-ray vision; every view we have is “through a glass darkly.” let’s be more honest, the truth we believe is the truth we’ve decided to believe, and we must respect each other’s conclusions without just shredding each other’s biblical scholarship. we may see the Bible differently, but folks on all sides of these conversations are somehow honestly wrestling with it. it is important to respect that.
3. lay down our “if they would justs…” this means trying to get the other person to see it the way we see it or change our position or confess the error of our ways or grasp that one other point that we’re sure will shift everything. if our agenda is mutual love, respect, and understanding, we’ll be okay. if it’s about winning, managing, out-bible-versing, or out-smarting each other, we’re just going to inflict harm and still get nowhere.
4. never pull the “but God says” or “but it’s clear in the Bible” card. seriously. this one has got to go if we are going to bridge these deep divides. walking humbly with God includes being humble about the way we’ve come to understand things about God. a much better alternative is, “i feel like God is stirring this up in me or leading me to this conclusion or i’ve wrestled with this with in scripture and here’s where i’ve landed…” but let’s own it instead of pulling a trump card which immediately shuts down every conversation.
5. acknowledge our own blind spots. we all have them. i am a crazy justice & mercy person and have faces of certain friends always in front of me, and sometimes it prevents me from seeing the bigger picture. i am allergic to anything that smells of judgement of me and can sometimes close myself off to honest critique. i can be prideful and smug and sure. we all have different blind spots that are important to notice, acknowledge, and respect how they are playing into these conversations.
6. celebrate what we do agree on. sometimes it’s just a little bit, but like the power of a mustard seed to move a mountain, a common thread can strengthen and sustain relationships more than we might expect. underneath our differences are some real gems. i’ve seen it happen, and it is so pretty.
7. always put relationships above our positions. positions aren’t worth it, people are. this means staying friends, agreeing to disagree, tabling conversations, laughing at the ridiculousness of what we’d let divide us, and honoring hearts above personal convictions.
8. trust that God is big enough for our differences. in fact, maybe that’s what he’s trying to tell us. while our small brains focus on theological differences, maybe there’s another story that is harder to embrace–that Christ’s love could bind us all together in perfect unity and is wide and deep and strong and high enough to hold all our best-shots-at-all-this. that real peace, shalom, is all of our differences held together and tangled up together to make something beautiful, diverse, and powerful.
this is tough stuff. i am so sad at our easy way out–to build walls, to force people to be in or out, to demand answers, clench fists, to harden hearts, to fight, to flee, to make groups-that-are-a-bunch-of-people-who-believe-all-the-same-thing.
yeah, i am hopeful and crazy enough to believe we have a shot at doing this better, but goodness gracious we’re going to need God’s help.
what would you add to this list?
wikipedia defines a spiritual practice as “the regular or full-time performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of cultivating spiritual development.” my working definition of a spiritual practice is “an action or process or intention that opens up our soul and challenges, heals, and transforms us.”
june’s synchroblog is today & the topic is ordinary courage. the awesome & amazing brene brown says, “courage originally meant ‘to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” over time, this definition has changed, and, today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic. heroics are important and we certainly need heroes, but i think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. heroics are often about putting our life on the line. ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line.”
oh, that lovely but cringe-worthy word–vulnerability. my guess is that if you’re like me, you have a love-hate thing with it. it’s brutal, it’s hard, it’s risky, it’s scary to share our real hearts and let ourselves be known in a raw way. and it’s also freeing. empowering. healing. transforming.
years ago a friend told me a little something her therapist shared that i always remember. part of becoming more loving, more free people is learning how to:
1. show up
2. tell the truth
3. trust God.
4. let go of the outcome.
show up, tell the truth, trust God, let go of the outcome.
i think of these all the time, especially when i am in one of those spots (which i often am) where all i can think of is running for the hills and doing whatever-i-possibly-can-to-avoid-pain. i am always reminded these 4 things are are a lot like other good-things-for-us & spiritual practices–easy to talk about and really hard to do.
there’s no way to do these 4 things without feeling scared. without resistance. without a do-we-really-have-to-do-this? feeling.
but unless we show up, we’ve got nothing to work with. we need to be in the room, to be eye to eye, to be in the conversation, to be present, to bring our body & our mind & our soul to the same place as best we can. it’s so much easier to hide, to stay quiet, to hang in the back, to disengage, to guard our hearts.
then, tell the truth. i’d change the wording here and say “tell our truth.” i think this is probably one of the hardest skills in the whole wide world to learn. so many of us are disconnected from our feelings, we critique all our thoughts, we do all kinds of nutty things in our head that discount our truth. being honest is one of the bravest things we can do this side of heaven. saying “this is what’s going on for me, this is how i am feeling, this is the crazy stuff swirling on in my head, this is what i am afraid of, this is what i want, this is what God is stirring up in me, this is what i am confused about, this is what i dream for” is truly courageous.
next is trust God. yeah, that can be freaky in all kinds of ways, especially for those of us who think we might know better than God what would be a good outcome. or who have all kinds of reasons to think that maybe God might not be trustworthy. but i do think our best hope is taking a breath after we show up & tell the truth and trust that God is in the midst of whatever we just showed up & told the truth about. that we’re not alone in it, that we’re not abandoned completely, that somehow, someway, God is at work.
and lastly, the one that does a lot of us control freaks in– let go of the outcome. loosening our grip, letting go of control, realizing we can’t take care of all of the ins and outs of what happens once we show up and tell the truth is really scary–and wonderfully freeing. for those of us who thrive on control (as in me), letting go of an outcome is so good because it forces me to reckon with the most important part of vulnerability–i can’t control it. it can’t be managed. it can’t be contained. it can’t be tamed.
when i think of ordinary courage & vulnerability, i think of these 4 things, but i do think they are sort of extra-ordinary, too, because of how hard they are to do. i think of how helpful they have been in helping me stay in when i want to run.
i think of how they really are a spiritual practice because they open up my soul and challenge, heal, and transform me.
yeah, showing up & telling the truth is hard.
but showing up & telling the truth is really holy, too.
so many great posts to check out! here are the links to other bloggers writing about ordinary courage, too:
when we were in kindergarten and someone asked the class, “how many of you are artists?” my guess is every hand would shoot up. ask a group of grownups the same question, and we’re lucky if there one or two cautiously put up their hands. what is wrong with this picture? what happened to us? somewhere along the line, as part of our socialization and growing up, we lose the freedom that we had as kids to create. it is so sad to me because inside each of us there’s so much amazing creativity and beauty, just waiting to come out. one of my favorite parts of the refuge is we try to work on cultivating creativity and giving places for God’s image in us to emerge.
matt appling is an art teacher, pastor, and writer from kansas city and has a new book out called, life after art, published by moody press. his blog is great, too–www.mattappling.com. life after art is all about what it means to get in touch with the artist that it’s in us and find ways to let it out. we need an art teacher for grownups!
i love this topic and asked matt a few questions so we could be challenged to consider this important topic that is so often put on the back burner and reserved for “those creative people.” oh yes, you are an artist!
you say “everyone was an artist, once. but somewhere between kindergarten and now, we lost the confidence to create” what do you think happens to us?
That’s definitely a complicated question to tackle, but the short answer is we grow up. We lose our innocence. Adult knowledge brings a lot of advantages. We are wiser, more autonomous, but we take on a hundred problems in exchange. As children, we were free to create in ways that as adults, are just foreign to us. I see this happening before my eyes every day as an art teacher – kids grow up and they no long think that what they are creating is great. They are insecure. Some become “perfectionists.” They spend their time comparing themselves to their peers. It breaks my heart.
what are a few of the best life lessons we can learn from the art room?
Finishing something is very satisfying, even if it isn’t perfect. (Note: nothing we create ever is perfect.)
We are usually our own worst critics. We see all the flaws that everyone else glosses over.
Art isn’t just about “being creative.” (I’ll leave it at that, but I spend a good deal of space on that one in the book!)
how does creating help us connect with the image of God in us?
On my art room wall, I have a poster I made that just has the first five words of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created…” The act of creating is the first thing we witness God doing. God creates not because anyone is watching or because He needs to, but because it makes Him unabashedly joyful. He creates because a creative spirit just bursts out of Him. I can’t think of many things we can do that can connect us to the mind of God quite like the act of creating (keeping in mind that “creating” takes on a myriad of forms. It’s not just paint on canvas.) The act of bringing new, beautiful things into existence should be our mission and expression of worship.
what can we do individually to awaken the creativity in us?
Everyone is unique, so creativity I think is going to look different for everyone. But I think it starts with giving yourself a chance to be creative. Give yourself permission to try something. Adults become such creatures of habit. When was the last time you tried something new? Creativity doesn’t have to have any pressure put on it. You don’t have to start a project with the goal of opening an Etsy store or even showing off your work. What you create doesn’t have to be “good!” Just do it because it’s something that affirms you humanity, brings you joy, connects you with your Creator.
what can churches and communities do to awaken creativity in people?
Unfortunately, the church struggles in this regard. Too often, the art world lacks much influence from the church and vice verse. Many geniuses of creativity have felt marginalized. The church appreciates their gifts, sure. But it’s like we don’t know what to do with them, because creativity doesn’t fit the usual mold of “serving in a church.” We want everyone to volunteer to fill a list of pre-determined needs for the church.
The problem with creativity is that it is divided into the same clergy / laity model that most churches are. You have the few anointed people who are “qualified” to do the real ministry. And you have everyone else who are kept as spectators.
Maybe awakening creativity in churches starts with churches affirming that all people are qualified to serve. That all gifts are welcome because we belong to one body with many parts.
what inspires you to keep creating?
I’m a very goal oriented person, and my art classroom is the most complex, multi-faceted, beautiful, frustrating vision I have ever tried to fulfill. Every artist knows the image that’s in their head, and they know that what comes out on paper is usually not quite up to par with their vision. It’s the same with me and teaching. I’m still learning how to teach, still polishing myself, still building something that’s not quite finished. I don’t know if it will ever be quite finished, but I know I can’t quit yet!
if you had one word of advice to people who hear that voice in their head rattling, ”but i’m not an artist”, what would you tell them?
“Yes you are.”
Ha! I know, that’s pretty oversimplified, in a way that people might blow off. But I truly feel badly for people who don’t have any creative outlet. The thing is, most people are not completely satisfied with their lives. There is something nagging at them that isn’t quite right. The act of creating something new is a training ground, a laboratory if you will, for the rest of our lives. Our lives are our biggest creations, and every day we add a few more brushstrokes. If you are a human being, then you are born in the creative image of God, and you are an artist. Don’t let any “professional” tell you otherwise.
thanks, matt! one of my favorite parts about what you shared is how we have created a strata where there are “real” artists and not so real ones. that is so limiting and so not the way it is supposed to be. at the refuge is try as best we can to do all kinds of things that foster creativity–art workshops and venues to try new things, pens and paper and playdough at our gatherings, and my favorite–open share nights where anyone can bring any kind of art to share–music, visual art, spoken word, furniture, you name it. it’s similar to voca femina but with men & women. it’s one of my favorite things we do because it’s so brave and there are no hierarchies, no cool kids and not-so-cool kids, just an open, safe space to light up the room with God’s image.
you can buy matt’s book on amazon.com. yes, you are an artist!
a few weeks ago a dear friend from high school posted this picture of me on facebook. i’m totally embarrassed to share it here, but i thought i’d be brave to make a point.
yes, i was the basketball homecoming queen my senior year of high school. don’t hold it against me. and yes, homecoming queens and cheerleaders can be nice people, ha ha.
i hadn’t looked at this picture in years, but when i did, this thought crossed my mind: if they only knew.
yeah, that was a terrible night for me. 4 months before that homecoming game i had an abortion and was still healing. i was a mess inside, like a big hot mess, and no one except for my very best friend knew what happened to me. i was so adept at hiding my pain that everyone around me never saw anything but my smiling face, my kathy’s-got-it-all-together-ness. they had no idea that i was filled to the brim with shame and self-hatred, that i could barely breathe. my insides and my outside are completely opposite of each other in this picture, but no one knew. they didn’t have any idea of the battle i was fighting inside my soul.
it made me think of how easy it is to judge others, to look on the outside and be jealous, to be judgmental, to think of ourselves as better-than or less-than others because of what we see on the outside. we do it with homecoming queens, we do it with co-workers, we do it with people at church, we do it with people on the streets, we do it with people sitting next to us on buses, on trains, on airplanes, we do it just about everywhere we go.
but the truth is, every human being–every human being–is fighting some kind of battle.
addictions to drugs, alcohol, porn, work, food, unhealthy relationships, gambling, spending.
the fall out of painful divorces
cutting and self-harm
caring for ailing parents
longing for a child, a spouse
shame, shame, and more shame
the trauma of sexual abuse
the deep wounding of physical and emotional abuse
death of a spouse of a kid of a friend of a family member
loss of jobs
insecurity & unworthiness
pressure to succeed
you name it, someone’s struggling with it.
it’s probably the guy at the grocery store or your neighbor or the woman you are standing next to at a soccer game or your mom or your dad or your kid or the person on the pew next to you or the one with the microphone or the one opening the bible or the one with big letters behind their name on their business card or the one holding a sign on the street corner or the one writing you a ticket or the one annoying the hell out of you for some weird reason or the one teaching your kids or the one fixing your car or the one you are sitting next to on the bus or the one standing in line in front of you at social services or the one who just came out as gay or the blogger who just wrote something that pissed you off or the one who signs your paychecks or the one who leads your small group or the one who stumbles out of the bar drunk or the one who keeps posting irritating things on facebook or the one picking up the bag at the food bank or the one paying for their groceries or the one smiling as they walk across the basketball court in a gold dress and wave to the crowd.
yep, everyone’s fighting some kind of battle.
God, give us eyes to see beyond what’s on the surface.
give us ears to listen beyond what we hear.
help us learn to live without assuming, without judging. give us hearts filled with compassion because of our shared humanity, our shared experience, our shared trying-to-make-it-through-the-day-as-best-we-can-despite-the-obstacles, our shared desire to be known and loved and accepted not for what’s on the outside but for what’s on the inside, too.
no less-than, no better-than.
no less-than, no better-than.
let’s be kinder than necessary. everyone’s fighting some kind of battle.
ps: june down we go column is up at sheloves magazine. the theme all month is “reclaim”–what’s under the rubble. may we reclaim God’s image in us and help others reclaim theirs, too!